REVIEW: The Inheritance (TIFF 2020)
The release of The Inheritance is preceded by the recent freedom of the remaining MOVE 9 political prisoners within the last two years. The MOVE Bombing in Philadelphia in 1985 is a lasting scar in the memory of the diaspora of Black people, and a reminder that state-sanctioned violence is permissible, especially when enacted against Black individuals living anti-capitalist lives. And this is still a current and present fear and material truth for the Black diaspora today as well. But with Black radicals aging in and out of jail under the oppressive forces of racist policing and surveillance and Black youth growing weary of their conditions, Ephraim Asili’s debut film is a reminder of the importance of Black, anti-capitalist community and education.
The film follows Julian (Eric Lockley), a Black Marxist moving into his grandmother’s house which he has inherited, that he then coverts into the House of Ubuntu (a Zulu term deriving from a phrase meaning “I am because we are) with the urging of his girlfriend Gwen (Nozipho McClean). The Inheritance is essentially the antithesis of the white, privileged students of La Chinoise, the 1967 film by Jean-Luc Godard that has direct physical and imagery references within Asili’s debut. Within the House of Ubuntu, we see a community of working-class Black adults, young and old, attempting to educate themselves in Black radical tradition and anti-capitalism.
It’s a film that blends non-fiction with fiction, providing a space for Black history to be taught, and for it to be demonstrated in practice with this fictionalized group working to organize themselves and their surrounding community into a sphere that can continue to re-live and re-teach the ways of Black activism.
In the midst of their revamping of the space and the growth of the collective, Julian’s childhood friend Rich (Chris Jarell) asks to use the space as a place to crash since getting kicked out of his mother’s house. He finds himself as a non-radicalized figure, pushed to join the collective in their collaborative efforts for radicalism and joint survival. There is strife between himself and the already radically educated members of Ubuntu, and here is where it’s clear that Asili’s experience within a Black Marxist group comes into play. This dynamic and showing of Rich’s slow-growing interest and commitment to the group and their efforts as well as the tension between him and Gwen, who has an aversion to his “ratchet” ways, is a reality in organizing spaces and discourse.
Although the performances are not the best, the dialogue written rings true to the use of AAVE (African American Vernacular English) and differing views in the journey to Black liberation. This is also seen in characters like Oldhead (Julian Rozzell Jr.) who is reflective of the more combative and defensive style of Black radicalism.
These tensions are what build the film and makes it shine. The ‘nonfiction’ side of The Inheritance and its inclusion of real-life footage of Black historical moments such as an interview with one of the first Black female presidential candidates Shirley Chisholm and members of MOVE in Philly, alongside books and records with iconography of various Black activist figures such as Angela Davis, are placed as reminders of the roots of Black liberation and its persistence throughout time.
These images are played among static frames of neighborhood murals of Black people, front-facing readings of plays and radical texts by members of Ubuntu, and starkly colored backdrops that feature quotes by prominent Black revolutionaries. These all set the tone that these moments of time and Black existence shift as various social movements progress, and are resolute in the end-goal of Black self-determination. But, although the film does provide a refreshing and vastly more realistic take on the ideas of communism, socialism and community organizing from a non-white lens, it falters in its pacing and lack of necessity of the fictionalized plotlines of the film.
Part of why The Inheritance is such a good film is because it transposes the past and the present effortlessly and demonstrates the necessity of togetherness in revolutionary movements. But when it comes to including subplots such as the romance between Julian and Gwen, it leaves us wondering how this affects the main plot in the long run, and if the awkward acting is worth interrupting the vulnerable history being delivered to us as the audience. During these moments of fiction, the camera acts as an active and exposing gaze when making direct eye contact with these burgeoning Black revolutionaries and their raw telling of what it was like to join the house or to read an especially emotive section of a radical essay. When these characters are able to be seen as humans and active participants in collective education is when we are connected to them most — not during forced storylines of romance or conflict.